We know you've been there - staring at the aisle in the drug store at the different kinds of toothpaste, each promising to be the best at something — like "fighting cavities", "tartar control", "whitening", or "decreasing tooth sensitivity". With so many options on the shelves, you might be wondering which one is best for you? We can help you choose.
What is Toothpaste?
Toothpaste, officially known as dentifrice, helps to amp up your toothbrush’s cleaning abilities. The main ingredients of most toothpaste include:
- Abrasives—The most important thing toothpaste does is remove unwanted stuff off the surface of your teeth. Long ago, people used gritty materials like brick dust, charcoal, tree bark, and animal hooves to clean their teeth. Thanks to technology and modern science, we now have much gentler ingredients proven to be safe and effective.
- Detergent—An ingredient more often associated with dishes or laundry, detergent is what makes toothpaste foam. This helps move particles off your teeth that water alone cannot.
- Fluoride—This mineral strengthens tooth enamel and makes teeth more resistant to decay. Small children tend to swallow a lot of paste as they are learning to brush (and too much fluoride is not good to ingest), so there are many without fluoride to choose from.
- Humectants—These substances keep the paste from drying out, which is very helpful since you take that cap on and off several times each day.
- Flavor—Toothpaste has flavors like peppermint, cinnamon, and bubblegum without any sugar or components that would cause tooth decay.
What to Look For In A Toothpaste
Fluoride is the most important ingredient in toothpaste and it’s a must even if your water has fluoride in it. It's a natural mineral that hardens the enamel and makes teeth more resistant to cavities. Fluoride is perfectly safe in small amounts and research has shown that it can dramatically decrease tooth decay. Any toothpaste with fluoride will do for most people as long as they’re brushing, flossing and visiting their dentist regularly, as well as eating a healthy diet.
If you don’t experience any particular type of dental issue and simply want healthier teeth overall, Raleigh dentist Dr. Jeff M. Morrison DDS suggests Crest Pro Health. “It’s the only toothpaste accepted by the American Dental Association in six categories,” he says. “It whitens, reduces sensitivity, and helps prevent cavities, gingivitis, plaque, and bad breath.” "
Colgate Total is also a great all-around toothpaste for most patients. It contains both fluoride and triclosan to fight cavities and gingivitis, and also helps to fight bad breath."
If you have a specific issue, like sensitive teeth, here are a few different types you may want to consider:
- Whitening Toothpaste — Most whitening toothpastes contain abrasive ingredients like magnesium carbonate or dehydrated silica gels that will remove surface stains. This could be a good choice if you have mild staining. Other whiteners that may be used in toothpaste include hydrogen peroxide, which claims to bleach teeth, and polyphosphates, said to keep highly pigmented food and drink from staining enamel. "However, the whitening ingredients in toothpaste aren’t concentrated enough or in contact with tooth surfaces long enough to be effective," says Dr. Morrison "and polyphosphates may cause canker sores and other mouth lesions, or tooth sensitivity." If you want to really whiten your teeth, you should schedule a professional whitening treatment.
- Desensitizing Toothpaste —Tooth sensitivity occurs when the tooth’s enamel is damaged, exposing dentin, the next layer of the tooth. Different compounds in toothpaste for sensitive teeth are touted for their ability to relieve sensitivity. Used regularly, desensitizers can ease sensitivity, but we recommend scheduling an office visit first. “You need to know what’s causing your sensitivity,” says Dr. Morrison. "For example, untreated gumline cavities, excessive brushing, and aggressive flossing can all lead to sensitivity." If sensitivity lingers after dental treatment, Dr. Morrison might suggest a desensitizing toothpaste, or for persistent discomfort, an in-office treatment such as concentrated fluoride.
- Children’s Toothpaste — Children under age 12 should use children’s toothpaste — it’s specifically formulated for “baby teeth” and isn’t harmful if swallowed because it contains less fluoride than adult toothpaste. This toothpaste also comes in different flavors to make brushing more appealing for kids.
- Natural Toothpaste — Natural toothpaste, formulated without artificial ingredients and foaming agents like sodium lauryl sulfate, can be an excellent option but a lot of natural brands don’t use fluoride. This can be a benefit for babies and toddlers who tend to swallow toothpaste but if you’re trying to avoid cavities and you’re old enough to know how to spit when brushing, be sure fluoride is included.
For all toothpaste sold in stores, look for seals of approval from The US Food and Drug Administration and the American Dental Association. The FDA tests toothpaste for safety and the ADA makes sure that toothpastes actually do what they claim to. The most important thing is that you buy toothpaste that you will encourage you to brush, because the mechanical action of brushing your teeth is much more crucial than the type of toothpaste you use, as long as your paste contains fluoride.
Brushing and flossing twice a day is critical in preventing tooth decay, and so is visiting your dentist twice a year for a cleaning and exam. If you’re still not sure what toothpaste is best for you, schedule an appointment with us today — we’ll be happy to help you find the right fit!